Study Hall User’s Guide: An Introduction
Here are some tips for finding your feet and getting the most out of Study Hall:
1. Lurk. Here’s a metaphor to start with:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
— Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form
It’s meant to be about academic discourse, the ways writers engage in a literary conversation that always predates us, but which we can contribute to nonetheless. But it also applies (more literally, minus the confrontation) to Study Hall. We’re all coming late to a party that’s already going on, and even the first people on the listserv weren’t the first writers trying to figure this world out.
The best way you can find your way in is to watch and listen for a bit first. Whether that’s reading emails on the Listserv or following along with conversations in a Basecamp campfire chat, it’s easier to put in your oar once you have a sense of how the current is flowing.
2. Search. To be cranky for a second, there’s no need to ever start an email to the Listserv with “I’m sure this has been asked before, but…” To be more generous, there’s a big difference between that opening and “I searched the archives and didn’t see any threads on this, so…” then asking for help.
There are some evergreen concerns that freelancers and writers have. We’re all always worrying about how to negotiate a rate, what to do about an unresponsive editor, or whom to pitch at the New York Times. This doesn’t mean your problems are unoriginal or uninteresting! But there is already a wealth of information waiting for you.
Study Hall has a lot of archive material and it can be difficult to find things, we admit. Here are three places to search before you ask a question:
Listserv archives: Go to groups.google.com and click on “my groups.” Then, click on “Study Hall Listserv” and you can search the entire archives of the Listerv. If you find a thread on your topic but without your specific question answered, it’s always helpful to revive that thread, asking your question as a reply to the most recent message, so that all the relevant information stays together. There’s even a Listserv FAQ.
Basecamp conversations: “Find” in the top toolbar will let you search message board posts and campfire conversations.
Editor Databases: Links to these are in Basecamp, under Study Hall General Docs & Files. To request or suggest an update, email email@example.com.
3. Know the Essentials. There are a few incredibly useful running threads on the Listserv. Know them and use them — it keeps everyone’s inboxes a little cleaner and keeps relevant information together. You can find them by, yup, searching the archive (or eventually your own email archives), but to get you started:
Pitches That Worked (if the pub you’re looking for isn’t covered, you can request pitches in this thread, too)
Boosting is a request to share someone’s new article. Here’s how it works:
Everyone gets one request per calendar year to email this thread with a story they want the rest of the Listserv to boost on Twitter. Obviously no one will be REQUIRED to boost a story, but if you don't boost other people's stories, they probably won't boost yours!
So basically you'd email saying "Hi everyone, can you boost this? It's really important to me," or whatever, and then all of us would tweet it out in whatever way we want (using our own language so it seems natural and not like we're all tweeting the exact same thing).
Stealing Pitches: Often, members will email the Listserv with a suggestion of a story to follow or a source that they’ve come across that they don’t have the time to invest in. This information is first come, first steal. Check to see if the thread starter has written that it has been claimed, or email them to ask if you’re still interested.
(There also used to be a running “steal this pitch” thread, though it’s since fragmented.)
Where to Pitch & Editor Contacts:
The biggest problem for freelancers is knowing where and who to pitch. Study Hall is built to solve these problems, but it can’t fix everything. The editor database in Basecamp is meant to give you an idea of which publications or specific editors might be relevant to you and we plan to develop it more in the future.
If you’re thinking of asking where to pitch a story on the Listserv, please make sure you’ve pitched it once or twice already — exhaust all your own ideas before asking others for their time and energy. Include as full a version of the pitch as you’re comfortable with sharing. If you follow up with someone for an editor contact, they might be most comfortable if you did it privately.
Most of all, if you expect to have your requests and questions answered, share the information you have with others who are asking. You have to give as well as take.
A Sidebar for Basecamp:
As much as lurking on the Listerv is helpful for getting oriented, exploring the Basecamp is hugely useful — both for getting a sense of how things work and for discovering all of the resources tucked away in there. An overview:
Basecamp is organized by teams. Everyone starts out in the Study Hall General team; you can join others as makes sense for you. The full list of teams with join links is under Docs & Files, but here’s a taste:
Story & Pitch Workshop
There are also regional groups and identity groups (LGBTQ, Study Hallers of Color, Parents, and more).
Each team has a message board and a campfire. (The Study Hall General team also has the Docs & Files, more on that section in a second.) The campfire is a chat room, the message board is… a message board. In general, the campfire is used for conversation and quicker questions. The message board is better for longer questions or more important questions that you don’t want people to miss in the campfire.
In the Story & Pitch Workshop team, use the message board for posting pitches to get feedback on (and to request ideas for where to pitch). This also sometimes happens in the General chat, but try to stick to Story & Pitch Workshop.
The Docs & Files area of Study Hall General holds a ton of useful information. For example: FAQs, a list of reporting tools and databases, calls for pitches, pitch guides for some higher-profile outlets, sample book proposals, freelance finance guides, and publication databases that include editors, their beats, and rates. They are extremely helpful (and extremely a thing you should search before coming to the Listserv with a question).
4. Mind Your Audience. SH is a great and supportive community, but it’s also a big one; though all messages here are off-the-record and private, you’re still hitting a lot of eyes. Remember that the only venue without editors in it is the Freelancers Only Basecamp team. Otherwise, your audience includes potential editors and bosses and who knows who else. (Each Basecamp team has a list of members, searchable and browsable, but it’s not the most convenient thing. We are in the process of developing a better member database as well.)
5. Be Generous. Answering questions and providing information is, in the end, a kind of labor. We do it because we’re a community and care about supporting each other, but that needs to be mutual for it to work. Sort of like this:
Obviously, if you’re on the more inexperienced side, you’re not going to have expertise to offer. But you can support your fellow SHers in other ways — read the work they share, boost the work they ask to be boosted, offer commiseration and camaraderie when you can. Eventually, there will be new, more inexperienced writers for you to offer your wisdom to. And if you’re already wise and experienced, be patient with the new folks, too.
As always, email us with questions or feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.